Premier League - Kuyt hat-trick stuns United

Sun, 06 Mar 15:32:00 2011

Liverpool threw the Premier League title race wide open once more with a resounding 3-1 win over Manchester United at Anfield.

Match Highlights:

Dirk Kuyt scored his first hat-trick for Liverpool as the Reds grasped their final chance to help stop bitter rivals United surpassing their joint-record haul of 18 league titles.

The combined distance of all three of Kuyt's strikes from goal may be no more than eight yards, but that will matter little to the Liverpool fans watching who now see their team move back into the top six, or indeed the Arsenal fans whose club are now three points behind leaders United with a game in hand.

Javier Hernandez scored in injury time, but that goal was the scantest of consolations for a United side that has now lost three of their last five league games, something which has not happened since 2004.

The inclusion of club record signing Andy Carroll on the Liverpool bench dominated the pre-match talk, but it was the Reds' other expensive January recruit, Luis Suarez, who starred once the game got going.

The Uruguayan looked as lethal as he did eager right from the opening moments when he picked out Raul Meireles and continued his run forward to guide the low driven return pass on target but without the precision or power required to beat Edwin van der Sar.

The £22.5 million signing from Ajax brought gasps from the Anfield Road end when, in a sustained attack spawned by Michael Carrick's cheap loss of possession, he made a swift 180 degree turn inside the area and jinked his way through three defenders before prodding the ball past Van der Sar from a tight angle. The ball trickled towards the goal line; Kuyt pounced to make sure and claim his first league goal since mid-January.

Five minutes later the Dutchman scored his second - but this time he had Nani to thank. The Portuguese winger was under little pressure as he leapt to head Suarez's cross clear but somehow managed to send the ball back towards goal, and Kuyt stooped to head home from close range.

What made Liverpool's control in the first half all the more impressive was the loss of Fabio Aurelio midway through it with a hamstring injury, necessitating the introduction of Sotirios Kyrgiakos and a defensive reshuffle by manager Kenny Dalglish.

United did fashion a small clutch of chances - with the recalled Dimitar Berbatov hitting the outside of the post with a well-struck effort and Wes Brown, in for the suspended Nemanja Vidic, seeing his header from a corner hacked clear by Meireles on the line - but overall Liverpool were in charge, looking a completely different side from that which was outplayed at Upton Park the previous weekend.

The first half ended in controversy after Jamie Carragher's lunge on Nani resulted in the defender being shown a yellow card and the winger leaving on a stretcher; Rafael's clumsy high challenge on Lucas then sparked a melee which referee Phil Dowd calmly allowed to dissipate before booking the Brazilian, as well Martin Skrtel for his chief role in the fracas.

Hernandez replaced the injured Nani just before the break, and United emerged with renewed fervour, if not a greater cutting edge, after the restart.

Ryan Giggs, making his club-record 607th league appearance, flashed a first-time shot over the bar after the largely peripheral Wayne Rooney played the ball to him across the edge of the box.

The England striker then had another cross headed back across goal and Berbatov saw his point-blank header blocked on the line by Meireles as the hour mark approached.

Soon afterwards, United were dead and buried when Suarez's free-kick went through the United wall and Van der Sar could only parry the ball into the path of Kuyt, who was by far the quickest to react - and he finished to claim the first hat-trick by a Liverpool player against United since Peter Beardsley's treble in September 1990, Dalglish's previous Liverpool v United clash as boss.

All that was left to make it a perfect afternoon for the home fans was to see Carroll stroll on, and they duly got their wish when the £35m man replaced Meireles with 15 minutes remaining.

The former Newcastle striker looked reasonably sharp following his lengthy lay-off with a thigh injury, and one of his trademark headers set Kuyt up with a chance for a fourth that was volleyed over the bar.

Suarez produced another mesmerising run past Patrice Evra and Brown that ended in him firing wide before he was substituted to a standing ovation, and Liverpool joy could not even be dampened two minutes into stoppage time when Hernandez glanced Giggs's cross past Reina.

Having lost to Chelsea and Liverpool on the bounce, the upcoming FA Cup fixture with Arsenal and the following Champions League clash with French champions Marseille will suddenly look far less appealing for United, while Liverpool could be forgiven for looking up the table and dreaming of a late run for an unlikely European place.

Tony Mabert / Eurosport

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